U.S. Commerce Secretary Defends Trade Embargo on Cuba
Washington -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says it is "naïve" to suggest that lifting the long-running U.S. trade embargo on Cuba would weaken the Cuban communist regime and force change on the Caribbean island. Speaking February 21 to the Council of the Americas, a Washington business organization, Gutierrez rejected the argument of those who suggest that Cuba, as it now exists, is an "untapped market for U.S. goods and investors" and that lifting the embargo would be a "boon" to foreign trade.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says it is “naïve” to suggest that lifting the long-running U.S. trade embargo on Cuba would weaken the Cuban communist regime and force change on the Caribbean island.
Speaking February 21 to the Council of the Americas, a Washington business organization, Gutierrez rejected the argument of those who suggest that Cuba, as it now exists, is an “untapped market for U.S. goods and investors” and that lifting the embargo would be a “boon” to foreign trade.
“I submit to you that foreign businesses will not flourish on the island as long as there is an active communist regime in control” of Cuba, he said.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba began in February 1962 in President John F. Kennedy's administration, with the purpose of bringing democracy to the Cuban people.
The embargo, said Gutierrez, is neither the “problem or the solution” for the downtrodden Cuban economy. The problem, he said, is the “repressive communist system” in Cuba, and “the solution is to change the system.”
Gutierrez also rejected claims that the embargo has worsened the situation in Cuba.
“That is flat wrong,” he said. The United States, Gutierrez said, has been a major source of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people, supplying one-third of the island’s food and medicine.
Gutierrez said the first report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba showed that up to $1 billion, or roughly 2.5 percent of the Cuban economy, came from remittances from the United States. President Bush established the commission in October 2003 to bring about a peaceful end to the Cuban dictatorship of Fidel Castro and establish democratic institutions, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
PLAUDITS FOR THE LADIES IN WHITE
Gutierrez’s speech came as the U.S. State Department’s Office of Cuban Affairs released a statement to USINFO February 20 saying it admires the Ladies in White ( Damas de Blanco ) opposition movement, which consists of wives and other close female relatives of imprisoned Cuban dissidents. Among its many honors, the group was named one of the three winners of the 2005 Sakharov Prize for the promotion of freedom of thought. ( See related article. )
The statement said Ladies in White normally holds a peaceful protest on Sundays for their loved ones’ freedom. The protests occur at Santa Rita Church in Cuba’s capital of Havana, where the women attend Mass, and then silently march down Havana’s Fifth Avenue, wearing white dresses that symbolize peace.
The Cuba office’s statement praised the Ladies in White for their “courage to challenge the Cuban regime on behalf of their families and loved ones, and joins with them in calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners” in Cuba. The statement added that the United States congratulates the Ladies in White “for all the international human rights awards they have won,” which is “only secondary” to their objective of obtaining the release of Cuba’s political prisoners.
The State Department said in a profile of Cuba that as of July 1, 2006, at least 316 Cubans were being held behind bars for alleged political crimes.
In a question-and-answer session following his speech, Gutierrez said the U.S. rationale for imposing an embargo on Cuba and not on China, another communist state, stems from the great differences in those two countries’ economies. While Gutierrez said the Castro regime has destroyed any opportunity for Cubans to make a life for themselves, “what you see in China today is a vibrant, entrepreneurial culture where people are free to improve their own lives.”
China remains far from a “100 percent free society,” said Gutierrez. But he added that “to compare the changes that have been taking place in China … to the conditions in Cuba is the wrong comparison. I would put Cuba in the same league as [the police state] North Korea.”
VIEWS OF CUBA EXPERT
In a panel discussion after Gutierrez’s presentation, Cuba expert Brian Latell said that very few people on the Communist Party-ruled island want or expect Fidel Castro to return to power after the dictator said he was temporarily relinquishing his office in July 2006 to recover from intestinal surgery.
Latell, senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the Cuban people’s sentiments about Castro stem from being “exhausted” after 48 years of tyranny.
In the last seven or eight years especially, Cubans have tired of Castro’s refusal to allow “significant market openings” to permit investment in the island or to allow “any iota of speech or political participation,” said Latell, the author of After Fidel, a look at Castro’s regime.
Latell did say that Cubans are looking forward to a “new era and new leadership” under Raúl Castro, whom his brother Fidel has named acting president. Raúl has been “encouraging higher expectations for economic change,” but “I’m not sure you’re going to get any political change” in Cuba, said Latell.
The text of Gutierrez’s prepared remarks is available on the Commerce Department Web site.
More about the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba is available on its Web site.
The profile on Cuba is available on the State Department Web site.
See more about Cuba in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, released March 8, 2006.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Cuba and the United States.
( USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov )
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